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Web Planet Revisited
on 19 March 2007
I first saw this as an original transmission when I was about 9 or 10 years old - we'd just about got our first TV by then! Who remembers black-and-white 405 lines VHF? (You could actually see the gaps between the scan lines, it was like looking through very narrow Venetian blinds) - anyway, In the succeeding 4 decades I had obviously forgotten nearly all of the details, but I do remember that it made a big impression on me at the time. It is ridiculed now for the amateurish sets and costumes and feeble 'special effects', but actually, all such-like studio-based TV productions from this period were all about the same, you name it, all suffered with wobbly sets and unconvincing explosions (the latter for simple safety reasons if nothing else). Not only is The Web Planet an extremely ambitious and complicated project, but the problems are compounded when you discover that they were only given two hours on a Friday evening each week in which to record an entire episode! This means that there are several dodgy moments and the production team freely admit that if they had been allowed more time, they could have come up with a much more polished result.
None of this matters if you have a good story. I watched the DVD right through for three hours solid and the story kept me hooked the whole time. (If you don't agree then I'm going to be a boring old fogey and suggest that you have been conditioned to conform with the modern obsession for constant, head-long, computer-game type action, but that's hardly your fault.) The best way to view The Web Planet is as though you were in a theatre watching a live performance on stage, then it works OK. In this context the actors manage to sustain convincing performances despite the restrictions, or so I think. The thin, Vortis atmosphere is indicated by a sheet of glass held up in front of the camera lens and smeared with Vaseline to add a blurry effect to the 'outdoor' scenes. Must admit the barren landscape with its perpetual night sky reminded me a bit of The Clangers' planet, while the so-obviously false flat walls of the Zarbi lair, which are supposed to be made of vegitation or the web stuff, virtually look the same as what you would get in an old computer game to represent e.g. hedges or jungle.
I was genuinely surprised that the whole thing is much better than I recall, perhaps because I'm now old enough to appreciate it better. A lot of the subtleties in the script obviously went right over my head at the age of 9! Yep, Doctor Who was never 'just for kids'. The picture and sound quality on the DVD is really excellent, certainly way better than that old 405 lines TV could have managed!